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Android or Windows Phone: What's best on a mobile phone?

Should I choose Windows Phone or Android? Smartphone buying advice.

Windows Phone vs Android

Should you choose a Windows Phone or an Android smartphone? We can't answer that for you, but we can point out some of what's good, and what is bad about both Windows Phone and Android. Our guide to two of the best smartphone alternatives to iPhone.

During the recent launch of the new iPhones lots of PC Advisor readers asked us which of the alternatives is best. There's BlackBerry of course, which offers great server side support and business functionality. But the principle question seems to be: Android or Windows Phone? It's not a question we can answer for everyone.

Both Android and Windows Phone 8 offer broadly similar functionality.

They come in a wide variety of handsets at a variety of price points - with the quality to match. If you are in the market for an iPhone alternative and you wish to avoid BlackBerry, for whatever reason, you are best advised to spend as much time as you can with a variety of handsets on each platform. There is likely a Windows- and an Android phone for everyone. It's just a question of finding the right one for you.

Rather than giving a specific verdict to a question that really can't be answered, here we give general advice on the pros and cons of Windows Phone vs Android. See also: Android vs iPhone vs Windows Phone vs BlackBerry - what's the best mobile platform?

Android or Windows Phone: what's great about Android

As the most popular mobile OS on the planet, Android offers an unprecedented range of handsets at a variety of price points. There's an Android to suit every wallet.

As a consequence support for Android from software developers and media owners is second only to one: iOS. You can find every app you could possibly desire in Google Play, and you can purchase music and movies from a variety of sources.

Android offers a level of customisation to both end user and hardware manufacturer. Not all Androids are the same, far from it. But the sheer popularity of Android devices means that there are lots of compatible third-party devices and accessories for Android.

Most importantly, after all this time the Android experience is now good. Like all major mobile OSes Android is good-looking and intuitive, at least in the more recent flavours. See also: 11 best smartphones: The best phone you can buy in 2013?

Android or Windows Phone: what's bad about Android

That sheer variety of handsets is not always a good thing. You can find a product at every price, but you may not wish to purchase and use the cheapest Android phones, and you are not guaranteed value at a higher price. The range of phones from different manufacturers also means that accessories and cases may not be compatible.

And it's not just hardware. Because Android is open hardware makers aren't forced - or even incentivised - to keep their handsets up to date with the latest version. As a consequence phones are available with a bewildering variety of operating systems on them. Throw in the fact that manufacturers such as Sansung and HTC write their own versions of Android to give their handsets a unique flavour.

This leads to a variety of quality of exerience - Android is far from a curated end-to-end experience. It means not all apps work on all phones, far from it. And not all Android phones even offer access to Google Play.

Not that this is always a bad thing. Some Android apps are terrible. And the choice of media outlets can be confusing. Choice and variety aren't always to be desired, and hardware makers will often push you in the direction of their own media- and apps stores. They may not have your best interests at heart.  

And even if you are an experienced Android user, you may not have used the version of Android you are getting. There is no unified experience. Finally, there is a perceived security risk with Android. Access to Google Play is relatively unfettered for Android developers, so you can't always be sure that the app you are downloading is legitimate. See also: Group test: what's the best Android phone?

Android or Windows Phone: what's great about Windows Phone 8

Windows Phone 8 is a curated end-to-end experience. It's much closer to iPhone, and BlackBerry than to Android in that respect. And it works well and looks good.

Indeed, in the case of Microsoft-owned Nokia phones, the hardware and software is all made by the same people. So you can be sure that when you purchase a Windows Phone 8 handset it will all work well together - even when it is made by a third-party such as HTC.

This has knock-on effects: there is no software-based security threat vector that we know of in the Windows Phone world. And although there is just one OS for all devices, these days there is a good variety of price points in the Widnows world. You can pick up the Lumia 520 for less than £100, for instance. That's great for a quality smartphone.

Finally, for businesses Windows Phone is like BlackBerry: your network admin can administer a fleet of Windows Phones from the safety of his server room. That means data security is a whole lot better. See all smartphone buying advice.

Android or Windows Phone: what's bad about Windows Phone

First, you'll note that we've removed the '8' from the header above. That's because users of Windows Phone handsets with an operating system older than Windows Phone 8 will never be updated beyond Windows Phone 7.8. And that means incompatibility with new apps. That may not affect your purchasing decision now, as you will buy a Windows Phone 8 device. But it is worth bearing in mind: although Microsoft says it will update Windows Phone 8 devices, you have no redress if it chooses not to.

Also Windows Phone 8 is different to Android (and iPhone). Like BlackBerry it works in a different way to the two most popular  mobile platforms. People who like Windows Phone tend to love it, but prepare for a learning curve.

The only other downside that we can think of is the down side of being part of a small player in a large market. All Windows Phone 8 handsets work well, but they all offer much the same experience, give or take a screen size or camera spec. There's also a perceived lack of media and apps in the Windows world. Microsoft will tell you that all the major apps people use is accounted for, but in my experience that's not entirely the case. And some of the apps that are there are not official, being made by third-party software makers. See also: best Windows Phone of 2013.

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